A light in the darkness: Detroit parish's lit-up Nativity attracts curious passersby

In an attempt to attract people to the church, St. Scholastica Parish in northwest Detroit, led by Fr. Jim Lowe, CC, have erected a 12-foot-by-6-foot Nativity scene complete with 3-foot figurines and lit up for the whole neighborhood to see. (Photos courtesy of St. Scholastica Parish)

Life-size creche a beacon inviting people to St. Scholastica, pastor says; one young man wants to be baptized after feeling drawn to church

DETROIT In northwest Detroit, on the corner of the Southfield Freeway and West Outer Drive, a place has been prepared for the Christ child and all those who wish to celebrate and worship him.

A new Nativity scene in front of St. Scholastica Parish is impossible for passersby to miss, an inviting beacon that's already drawing people into the church, parish leaders say.

The 12-foot-by-6-foot structure, lit up and laden with hay, hosts 3-foot-tall figurines of the Holy Family, the Magi, shepherd and a few animals who stand guard over an empty manger that will receive the Christ child on Christmas. A giant star towers above the makeshift stable, nearly 20 feet off the ground.

“It's a way of bringing Christ, bringing the spirit of Christmas, bringing the joy of Christmas to people who are really very much in need of that kind of encounter,” Fr. Jim Lowe, CC, pastor of St. Scholastica, told Detroit Catholic.

Nearly six months ago, Fr. Lowe began discerning how St. Scholastica could better implement the Detroit Model of Evangelization into its parish life, emphasizing a relationship with the surrounding Detroit community. Through prayer, he felt inspired that the parish needed something to attract people, something visible to everyone.

St. Scholastica parishioners pose in front of their new parish Nativity scene. Fr. Lowe said the creche already has led to evangelization opportunities as neighbors and passersby stop to gaze in wonder.

“We have been convicted that we need to do more to reach out to people outside of the brick-and-mortar walls of St. Scholastica and make Christ more visible in the surrounding community,” Fr. Lowe said.

While attending the archdiocesan priests' convocation in September, Fr. Lowe came across a vendor selling a large Nativity set and immediately snapped into action, conferring with the parish council and bookkeeper to make the purchase happen.

“I thought, ‘This is it. This is what we need to put in front of St. Scholastica Parish. This is going to bring joy; it’s going to bring peace; it is going to bring light into the community in a time when so many people are experiencing darkness,’” Fr. Lowe said.

Fr. Lowe and several parishioners spent weeks assembling and setting up the display. Before he entered seminary, Fr. Lowe used to build custom homes in Metro Detroit, a skill that proved useful as he worked with others to assemble the wood and plexiglass structure.

“Previously, we always waited until after the fourth Sunday of Advent to put up all of our Christmas decorations because we just wanted to keep Advent really pure and only have the simplicity of the Advent wreath and maybe some purple in there,” Fr. Lowe said.

However, Fr. Lowe said, this year the parish decided to decorate early, on the first Sunday in Advent, to draw attention to the church.

Since the large crèche was put up, several people have stopping by, both on foot and drivers pulling over to get a closer look and take pictures. Whenever he can, Fr. Lowe engages with those passing by.

Once, a bus driver with a busload of people stopped so she could get a closer look.

“She said, ‘I have never seen this church lit up like this; it is so beautiful,’” Fr. Lowe recalled. “‘I have been driving this route and I have never seen it look like this.’ She then asked what time our Masses were.”

Another young man approached on foot. Fr. Lowe saw him and felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to talk to him. The young man, Rafael, had crossed the street because he had to find out "what was up with the lit-up 'box.'”

Once, a bus driver with a bus full of passengers stopped to get a better look, and ended up asking for the parish's Mass times, Fr. Lowe said. Another young man who stopped by inquired about becoming baptized after accepting an invitation to a parish prayer group, Fr. Lowe said.

Fr. Lowe asked the man whether he wanted to pray, and Rafael consented, saying that he needed prayers because he had recently gotten into a car accident and lost his job.

The priest gave Rafael the contact information for a parishioner who runs a nonprofit called Operation Abel, which connects people looking for employment with meaningful work within their skillset. Afterward, he invited Rafael to return to the parish the following week for a prayer meeting.

“He came back with his brother to the prayer meeting the following Friday, on Dec. 17,” Fr. Lowe said. “He had not been in a church for 10 years. Afterward, he came up to me and said, ‘Father, I had an incredible experience tonight. I can’t say it in words, but I want to be baptized. I have never felt this way; this is really an experience that is going to be life-changing for me.’”

Fr. Lowe has been told by those in the neighborhood that the display is unique in the community, and clearly is accomplishing its purpose.

“This attracts people," Fr. Lowe said "That is most important because if we don’t get people to come in, we can’t lead them to an encounter or provide opportunities for growth or even witness."


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